I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate. I also thank my fellow officers of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, especially Ian Austin and my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Winchester (Steve Brine), for their support. I thank, too, Adam Coffman, who administers the group for us extremely well. We run a range of events, including an annual parliamentary bike ride. Of the current ministerial team, all of whom are cyclists to a greater or lesser extent, two have taken part in the bike ride. I hope that the Minister will agree to join us this year, perhaps with other colleagues from the Government or, indeed, with other colleagues from this debate.
Apart from the 30-minute Adjournment debate that I secured on cycling in England last year, MPs have not had a substantial debate on the important issue of cycling for several years, which is worrying. I welcome the Committee’s decision to rectify that. The sheer number of Members here—I think we are outdoing the number in the main Chamber at the moment—and the number of signatures on my early-day motion 2689 show the importance of the issue. [Interruption.] I am informed by the knight on my right, my hon. Friend Sir Bob Russell, that 44 Members are here. Moreover, some 2,000 cyclists cycled around Parliament last night to show their support.
The impetus for today’s debate is the “Cities fit for cycling” campaign. I wholeheartedly congratulate The Times on launching it; it is a really fantastic achievement. The campaign has an eight-point manifesto, which looks at lorries, junction redesign, a national cycling audit, infrastructure investment, training, 20-mile-an-hour zones, cycle super-highways and cycling commissioners. About 30,000 people, including myself, have now expressed support for those eight points. More importantly, they have also been backed by organisations such as the AA and the RAC, which is testament to the breadth of the support.
The campaign has increased the public debate about cycling and brought it further to the Government’s attention. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister responded to my calls for him to support the campaign as well. Later today, my own city council, the Liberal Democrat-controlled Cambridge council, will debate and, I hope, pass a motion in support of The Times campaign. It is the first council in the country to do so.
The Times has rightly highlighted the shocking rise in the number of cyclists who have been killed or seriously injured on our roads. Between 2010 and 2011, the number rose by 8% in the face of increasing safety in almost all other forms of transport. Although each of those injuries or deaths is a tragedy, cycling is still a fundamentally safe form of transport. The increase in injuries should be seen against a backdrop of increasing cycling numbers, which we should welcome.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this fantastic debate and on his excellent work in the all-party parliamentary group. With regard to road safety, does he also welcome the initiative by the British Cycling website, which looks at mapping routes and accredited safe routes to help people plan their journeys safely? Will he pay tribute to the excellent work of Sport England in supporting cycling throughout the country?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I do indeed support the great work of Sport England. I will talk about route finding later. The excellent website CycleStreets also allows people to find routes that are safer and more direct. A recent survey by Sustrans found that 56% of the British public feel that urban roads are unsafe to cycle on.
I reiterate the message of congratulations to Dr Huppert on securing this debate. I have had many letters from my constituents about it. In the last year, two cyclists were killed on the Bow roundabout, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick. Many of my constituents use that roundabout. Although I appreciate the point about the overall safety of cycling, there are serious concerns about road safety in parts of London—for instance, in Tower Hamlets. It is important to raise such concerns and ensure that the Mayor of London takes them seriously. He must put in place measures that ensure proper safety in such areas. We cannot have more deaths taking place, so we need to place the right emphasis on the serious dangers that exist, on which many people have campaigned.
I thank the hon. Lady for making that point. I suspect that many Members wish to intervene, and I will give way as many times as I can as long as they are brief.
I met the Mayor’s director of the environment yesterday specifically to talk about the Bow roundabout. I notice that the London cycling campaign has some proposals on the matter as well. It is not in my constituency and I am not an expert in the details. There are clearly other such junctions where much more work needs to be done to make them safe.
I should like to move on from the Bow roundabout. Members will have the chance to speak later. I do not want to take up too much of anyone else’s time.
There is rightly intense media interest when cyclists are killed or seriously injured. Such stories are vital and often harrowing. The Times campaign is partly based on the awful injuries suffered by Mary Bowers, who is a journalist and a former student from my constituency. The stories highlight the need for improved safety. One of the problems is that Government policy has tended to be largely reactionary and that has put people off cycling, which is a real problem. The evidence is clear that the more people who cycle, the safer that it gets. There is a strong group effect in that regard.
One study showed that if the number of cyclists is doubled, the accident risk is reduced by more than a third. The Dutch have a lower accident rate because of, not in spite of, the number of cyclists. Anything that deters people from cycling is very damaging and risks increasing the dangers for all.
As most of the items concerning cycling in my constituency are devolved matters, I will not take up time speaking about them. On this very point of the increase in numbers, I represent a constituency and a city that has a good record in increasing the number of cyclists, and that has happened over many years. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the key factors in getting a change in attitude and increasing the numbers is consistent support from local authorities and active organisations? That is the key to getting the long-term change that we all want.
Local activity is absolutely critical. In my own area, Cambridge city council has long prioritised this matter. When I was a councillor, I chaired the traffic management committee. Local activity in other areas is also important, so the Cambridge cycling campaign and the London cycling campaign do a lot of excellent work to keep up the pressure.
I am not going to list every cycling campaign in the country; I am sure that they are all excellent. Today, I hope that all Members will have a chance to speak and to focus on how cycling in this country can be further improved and encouraged. Both The Times campaign and the all-party parliamentary group take a holistic view about promoting cycling as a whole. That is what I hope that we can discuss today. The debate is long overdue and the need for change is pressing.
Let me talk briefly about the positives of cycling in case some Members are not aware of them. Cycling is the most efficient form of transport in the world. So many studies have highlighted its energy efficiency compared with cars, trains, buses, planes and even walking. A 2009 study by Professor David MacKay found that an average cyclist will use less than a third of the amount of energy required to walk, a sixth of the energy needed to travel by coach and an eightieth of the energy a car would use. When we consider that efficiency and the average distances that people travel, cycling becomes almost a no-brainer. Three-quarters of our journeys in this country are five miles or fewer. Most cyclists could travel such a distance fairly quickly. Of course cycling is not the answer to each of those journeys, but more cycling could be done. Cycling is efficient; we can use it for our basic transport needs. In the UK, cycling accounts for just 2% of all trips. That number should be far higher.
I cycled in to the House of Commons today from Fulham. Members can see that from my helmet hair. I support my hon. Friend and The Times campaign, and I hope that my local cities in the north-east—Newcastle and Gateshead—will institute the campaign as part of their ongoing work. I represent the small rural towns of Hexham, Ponteland and Prudhoe. Does my hon. Friend agree that we can apply this campaign to all such rural towns?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Rural towns and rural areas can also do things to promote cycling. The details will obviously be different, but the principle is the same. The benefits from having more cyclists on our roads are also the same, in that drivers and other road users will understand what is happening.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman; he is being very generous. Does he agree that one easy and cheap way of improving cycling safety is to improve training? One of my constituents, Philippa Robb of londoncycletraining.co who is here today, says that two hours of training costs £70 and would absolutely transform cyclists’ safety on the road. We are not talking about millions of pounds of infrastructure investment. Of course we need other measures as well, but surely that is something that the Government can do. Companies, too, can get involved. They often sponsor the cycle-to-work scheme but not the training.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct about training support, and I will talk later about that issue. I am very pleased that the Government have continued to fund Bikeability training for young people. It is very important to catch people at a young age.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate him on securing this debate. I have had a number of letters from my constituents in Northampton North, which is a business hub with a lot of haulage traffic; lorries and the like. Those vehicles can and do present a danger to cyclists. Does he have any suggestions about how that problem can be alleviated?
A number of things have been done, and a number of other things can be done about that problem, including providing sensors and mirrors around vehicles and training. There are various exchange programmes to allow cyclists to understand what it is like to be in a heavy goods vehicle and heavy goods vehicle drivers to understand what it is like on a bike, so that there is more awareness and everyone can behave more sensibly.
Why are so few people cycling? It is not for a lack of bikes. Each year, more bikes than cars are sold in the UK. Also, the costs of cycling are quite low. Bikes are not as expensive as a car or a travelcard; a cyclist does not have to join the AA; and maintenance costs are low. All a cyclist has to do is to eat some food. Cycling is also reliable: there is no waiting around for a bus or train; cyclists will not be caught up in traffic; and if—unfortunately—a cyclist is late, it is normally because they left too late.
I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman, so I am afraid that I will not give way again.
The health benefits of encouraging cycling are also huge, but they are not properly estimated. Obesity costs our country around £20 billion a year, which is about as much as the entire budget for the Department for Transport. We know that investment in active transport—walking and cycling—pays massive dividends. Rather interestingly, some studies have shown that the average life expectancy of cyclists is up to two years longer than that of non-cyclists. That is good news for us, but less good news for those debating the pensions issue.
Cycling is good for the environment. Even if one takes into account the food that cyclists eat, where it comes from and how it was produced, carbon dioxide emissions are a fraction of those from other vehicles and typically very little other pollution is emitted.
On participation, last May, I got on the back of a bike for the first time in 20 years, alongside 150 other Huddersfield Town fans, as we cycled from Huddersfield to Brighton, raising £250,000 for the Yorkshire ambulance service. That fundraising trip was so successful that more than 300 Huddersfield Town fans will ride from Yeovil to Huddersfield this May. That is a massive increase in participation. Many of those charity cyclists are riding for charity for the first time and, indeed, riding a bike for the first time in many years. So there are a lot of new initiatives, particularly based around charity, and they increase participation in cycling.
Absolutely. There are a huge number of cycling activities to participate in. We must ensure that people are aware of them, so that we can bring more people into cycling.
As I have said, cycling is efficient, cheap, reliable, healthy and environmentally friendly—by all accounts, it is a public policy maker’s dream—and I have not even mentioned cycling as a leisure activity, including road biking or mountain biking, or as a sport. We have some of the best international cyclists in the world. We should note that just last week Great Britain came top of the medals table in the track world cup, with an outstanding five gold medals. Our national cycling team is world-renowned, but our provision for cyclists off the track is deeply inadequate.
What can the Government do to encourage our most effective yet underrated form of transport? This is not just about spending large amounts of cash. There are a lot of small and cheap changes that will make a very big difference to cycling in this country.
Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating politicians of all parties in London who have overseen a significant rise in cycling in the capital? Does he agree that, although the number of people cycling in London has risen dramatically, car use is projected to increase at least as fast as that of bicycle use, if not faster, and therefore that how we manage the road space to accommodate the growing demand from both cyclists and drivers needs to be a critical element in planning for the future?
Absolutely—managing road space is key. Of course, a cyclist takes up a lot less road space than a car user, so when we move people over to bikes from cars we actually free up space, which is very valuable. I emphasise the point that the hon. Lady makes about cycling being a cross-party issue. There are differences between us in the parties, but I hope that this debate will not become a party political knockabout. I do not think that any of us wants that to happen; this issue is too important to the public.
The reforms that we need are not new. Many of the proposed reforms that we will hear about today have been called for by cyclists for years. National organisations such as CTC, which was formerly the Cyclists Touring Club, and local groups such as the Cambridge cycling campaign have worked very hard for sensible policies and support. As a party, the Liberal Democrats have been pushing for those policies for many years, and I am delighted that somebody from my party—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Norman Baker—is the Minister with responsibility for cycling now.
We have been able to make some progress. Just recently, some extra money was provided for cyclists, with £7 million going to improve cycle-rail integration, which is absolutely critical. Someone can do a huge amount with a train and a bike, and it is very important that cyclists have places to park their bike and that they can get their bike on the train. I have been working for a long time to achieve some of those things at Cambridge station.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. On the point about trains, I have been working very closely with the Ealing cycling campaign, specifically about the fact that not everyone wants to cycle all the way to work. Sometimes, people want to cycle to the train station, get on the train and then be able to get off the other end. Does he agree that it is very important that we encourage more train operators to make it easier for people to take their bikes on trains and also that stations, including the parking centres, are made more cyclist-friendly?
Definitely. I hope that the money that I have just referred to will help—it is being matched by some other support—and I talk quite regularly to the Association of Train Operating Companies about what we can do to improve matters. In addition, I think that we are finally about to make some progress at Cambridge station, which I am delighted about.
There is another issue. Cycle parking applies throughout our towns and not just at the stations. As well as the fact that it is possible to fit in more bikes than other vehicles, which is very helpful, cyclists actually spend more when they go shopping than people who go by car. So it would be quite good for our economy to see more people cycling.
A further issue is getting people started and helping them to find a route that they can follow to get to where they want to go. There is an excellent Cambridge-based company called CycleStreets that has route-mapping across the whole country. All our constituencies are covered by that provision. It is free online, and I can recommend the iPhone Bike Hub app, which will even suggest the quietest routes or routes that avoid hills if that is what people want; people have to cycle the remaining hills themselves. The development cost for that provision was around £40,000, to generate something that covers the whole country. It was developed using open public data and private sector initiative, and I hope that MPs, councils, train operators, event organisers and others will link up to the CycleStreets website, so that they can give cyclists specific information on how to get to a station, event or wherever they are trying to get to very easily.
On road space, I just wanted to ask—as someone who has been knocked off his bike twice—if the hon. Gentleman agrees that what we really want to move to is what happens in great European cities such as Munich, where there is clearly defined space for pedestrians, road users and cyclists, with the space for each group clearly marked?
There are many cases where clear segregation, including dedicated cycle routes, is absolutely the right thing, but we must also look at policies across the whole country. In rural areas, that suggestion simply would not be sensible. We need the right solution in the right place, and I think we can deliver that.
There are a number of measures that companies should adopt, such as providing showers and lockers at work, which will help to promote cycling and, in turn, cycling will help to improve employee well-being and productivity. The cycle to work scheme works very well, but the tax problems need to be resolved and the scheme should be promoted a bit further.
I want to point out that the county freight route through Somerset, which is the A371, exactly illustrates the problem that was mentioned just a moment ago by my hon. Friend Andrew Selous. On that route, there is certainly not space to allow cyclists a dedicated route; actually, there is not even space for cyclists, pedestrians and those who drive their freight vehicles along that route as they head towards the smallest city in England, which is Wells. Will my hon.
Friend Dr Huppert support the moves of the Strawberry Line Association, which is trying to use the old railway that runs through Somerset to promote both cycling and, of course, walking—but mostly cycling—and to enable children in particular to go to schools that are at either the Cheddar end or the Wells end of that route?
There are a lot of greenways such as that one that can be used. In some parts of the country, they are used extensively and they are very good things, whether they run along a canal or an old railway line, unless, of course, it is planned to turn an old railway line into a new railway line; that might be happening. But there are certainly great opportunities, such as the one that my hon. Friend describes.
The small scale matters, but the Government need to encourage a much broader and long-term shift towards cycling. Some of that work costs money, but not a vast amount. To get to European-standard cycling towns would cost about £10 per person per year, which is not a huge or unthinkable sum.
In 2010, my hon. Friend the Minister announced a new local sustainable transport fund that is worth more than £500 million. Every local authority applied for money from that fund, and 38 out of the 39 successful bids included cycling aspects. That was a huge step forward, which I am delighted to endorse.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I must say that I also support the campaign by The Sunday Times. The main thing that will increase the number of cyclists in our towns and cities is better safety. As a keen cyclist myself, I often find when I cycle in Reading that it is an extremely risky business. Does he agree, therefore, that local authorities need to do a lot more, and that simply painting some white lines on the road is just not good enough? We need much more action from local authorities, as well as from Government.
Local authorities at their best have some fantastic schemes. At their worst they paint a few white lines, which then stop suddenly and do not go anywhere, so we need the right infrastructure. More can be done with a local sustainable transport fund. I want to see that fund grow and I want a clear message from the Minister that schemes with lots of cycling in them are more likely to be successful. We need to increase substantially our national spend on cycling infrastructure, and that would be one way to do it. Local authorities are investing in some of these schemes, but they need to do more. They should also look at other options to increase permeability using things such as contraflow cycle lanes, which we have used safely in Cambridge for many years.
On local authorities and highways departments, some of the problems I find when cycling on main roads are grids and resurfacing. There may be limited white lines to protect cyclists, but it is amazing how those grids may be sunk into the road and, especially in the evenings, we go over them, they damage the vehicle and—worse—someone comes off.
The hon. Gentleman has highlighted a number of problems. We need to have better quality roads. As a cyclist, I find that what may be a relatively small hole for a car becomes very large for a cyclist, particularly if we have to swerve round it.
Can I just make my next point? I will try to take as many interventions as possible, but it means that other people will not be able to speak.
The much lamented Cycling England was excellent at providing accurate information and advice, so that councils could find out ahead of time what would work and what would not. They could advise on junction design and the disadvantages, for example, of having mixed shared-use pavements. Cycling England was excellent value for money and a great resource for the country. To quote Jed Bartlet, “Can we have it back, please?”
Improving road layout does not have to be expensive. The changes to the rules that the Government have made for 20 mph zones, which are much safer, have reduced the costs of implementation. Good planning can ensure that cycle facilities are integral to new developments, rather than retrofitted later.
Earlier in his speech, the hon. Gentleman referred to transport costs. Given that fuel prices, bus fares and so forth are rising, it is cheaper to cycle. Has he had any discussions with the transport companies themselves?
As part of my role as co-chair of the Liberal Democrat committee on transport, I have had several conversations with transport committees. I will happily talk to the hon. Gentleman about the details later.
The issue is not simply about infrastructure. We have to look at training and education for cyclists and drivers alike. I am pleased about the Bikeability scheme, which will train 400,000 nine to 11-year-olds a year. It is vital that our children are introduced to the benefits of cycling at a young age, that they are encouraged to cycle to school and that they are given the training to do so safely. I would like to see all cyclists cycling safely and legally, as all road users should.
It may surprise some to know that I cycle in London. Twice I have been hit from behind by motorists. I noticed in the three years that I cycled—until I was very badly hurt—that many cyclists totally ignore red lights. It is also up to the cycling community to behave properly. It is not only the responsibility of Government or motorists. I am sure that everyone here obeys red lights. I used to watch about 50% of the cyclists go straight through red lights and I saw accidents occur because of that.
I am not sure that the 50% figure is accurate. Several studies have shown that it is smaller than that. The key point is that all road users should behave legally. Drivers should not speed and should not use their mobile phones. Cyclists should not go through red lights. Everybody should stick to the rules and then everybody would be safer. If we can move away from the argument of cyclists versus car users versus taxis or whatever to everybody behaving safely, we would all do much better.
On safety, at the end of my road in Hackney, there is a ghost bike permanently fixed to the wall, because of a cyclist who was doing his best. He was killed by a lorry trying to turn out of my road. One of the things that we want to do is not just make life convenient for cyclists, but save lives.
Absolutely. We need to save lives, and promoting cycling is a good way to do that.
It is important that users of heavy goods vehicles and other road users know how to deal with cyclists. Driving tests could be improved so that how to deal with cyclists becomes part of the test. I hope that the Government will consider that. We can get this modal shift. In my constituency, a quarter of adults cycle to work or education. We can get there.
Finally, as The Times has so powerfully advocated, we must have a cohesive strategy regarding cycle safety. For me, the most sensible way to look at cycle safety is from the bottom up. The work done by Caroline Pidgeon, who chairs the London Assembly Transport Committee, shows the grass-roots local changes that can make a difference. She has worked extremely hard as an advocate for cycle safety in London. Tragically, 16 cyclists died on London’s roads last year. Caroline has met some of the families affected by those tragedies and they are united in calling for better protection for cyclists. We need to see segregated cycle lanes, Trixi mirrors, 20 mph speed limits and the training that we need.
Through local campaigning, such demands are now at the forefront of the London elections, The Times campaign and the national agenda, with immediate changes hopefully happening over the coming months.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. As the newspaper has it, “The debate begins and he’s pedalling first.”
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one crucial thing in cycling safety is the use of lights at night? So often we see other cyclists on the road at night without lights on their bicycles. Does he agree that it would be helpful if cycles were made that already had lights on them that could not be taken away? Does he agree that it would be a great thing to have all 54 cyclists here today on our bikes cycling from Parliament to the Mayor’s office with the daddy of parliamentary bicycling, the Leader of the House of Commons, my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, and the Mayor of London joining us on a cycle ride to raise funds for cycling safety?
That is an excellent idea. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman’s joining us for the parliamentary bike ride. We will see if we can attract such coverage and interest.
The answer is clear. Where cyclists are not allowed to cycle on pavements, they should not do so. People who cycle dangerously in that way should stop doing that. We must remember the figures: 1.1% of pedestrian fatalities are the result of collisions with cyclists. The rest are all collisions with motor vehicles. We must remember that the bigger problem is cars hitting pedestrians.
As my hon. Friend knows, I am an enthusiastic cyclist. He has described at least a dozen, if not more, initiatives that are necessary to achieve the objectives that we all want. If we want to achieve safety on our roads, perhaps we should have one or two initiatives instead of a dozen or more. Perhaps we are trying to do too much to improve safety on our roads.
I am afraid I do not agree with that comment. We can do a lot all at once. We need to get the safety improvements, the training and everything else that I have spoken about.
The Minister has made progress on Trixi mirrors and 20 mph limits. There is more to do on segregated cycle lanes and training, as well as regulations for heavy goods vehicle sensors, as in the private Member’s Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith, whom I am delighted to see here.
The Government should also look at sentencing and prosecution with respect to crashes involving cyclists, and consider new measures such as proportionate liability. There are far too many stories of people who have been killed or seriously injured, while the guilty party seems to get away almost scot-free. It is appalling that so many cyclists feel excluded from justice. The Government have taken steps on this, but there is much more that can be done to prevent tragedies on our roads.
For many years, cyclists have worked from the bottom up through campaigns to promote cycling and put it on the national agenda. The Government must also do their part. In the year of the London Olympics we have a unique opportunity to take radical steps to promote our most efficient form of transport. The Government have done some work on that, and yet with increasingly congested cities, more competition for resources and the need to improve public health, the need for investment in cycling has become more acute. We cannot miss this golden opportunity to create a safe, sustainable transport network. For too long cycling has been undervalued and not supported. The Government must listen to the more than 50 Members here today and take further action to promote cycling now.
Order. There is obviously a lot of interest in the debate, so I would encourage hon. Members to make brief speeches and shorter interventions.
Let me start by thanking my co-chair of the all-party group on cycling, Dr Huppert, and the more than 50 MPs who are present for the debate. Let me also thank The Times, whose cycling safety campaign triggered the debate.
I have been cycling all my life. As has been said, it is a great form of transport and a great way of keeping fit and improving our health. It is also good for the economy, it gets cities moving more efficiently and it helps us tackle climate change. All that is great, but this campaign is important for a much simpler reason: if people want to ride a bike, they should be able to do so safely. When it comes down to it, that is what the campaign is all about.
I have been a member of British Cycling and the Cyclists Touring Club, I have tabled parliamentary questions, I have raised issues on the Floor of the House, I have backed loads of campaigns and I have attended countless seminars, conferences and meetings, but The Times has, in a few short weeks, achieved a breakthrough for which we in cycling have been campaigning for years. Its campaign was triggered by the tragic accident that so badly injured Mary Bowers, a friend and colleague of staff at the paper.
The paper has raised the profile of cycling safety, urged readers to lobby their MPs, forced the issue on to the agenda and lobbied Ministers for change. Already, 30,000 people have backed the campaign, with 20,000 on Twitter. Despite the weather, 2,000 people rode to Parliament last night, and more have lobbied their MPs to sign the hon. Gentleman’s early-day motion. There are also more MPs here than I have ever seen in a Westminster Hall debate, which is fantastic.
The editor and his colleagues are personally and, I think, emotionally committed to the campaign. He plans to attend the debate, which shows how important the paper thinks it is. All that should show Ministers that the campaign will continue, gather pace and strength, and attract more supporters in Parliament and the country until its demands are met.
I want to make sure that everyone who wants to speak gets in, so I will move on to some of the issues The Times campaign has raised, on which I hope we will hear specific responses from the Minister. First, what consideration has he given to requiring by law that lorries in city centres have sensors, audible alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars? As RoadPeace points out, HGVs cause more than half of cyclists’ deaths in London, so will he support that organisation’s proposal that lorries with safety technology qualify for lower premiums?
Secondly, will the Minister ensure that the 500 most dangerous junctions are identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and with mirrors so that lorry drivers can see cyclists? Thirdly, we need to undertake a national audit to find out how many people cycle and how cyclists are killed or injured so that we can use that information effectively to underpin cycle safety work.
Will the Minister earmark 2% of the Highways Agency budget for next-generation cycle routes with clear signage so that cyclists can safely find their way? On that point, why can he and his colleagues not spend a larger proportion of their Department’s budget on cycling? Cycling is booming in Britain and is worth about £3 billion to the economy, but whereas the Netherlands spends £25 per person on cycling each year, Britain spends just a pound. The benefits of increased spending are clear from what has happened in London, where £5 per person has been spent each year for more than the past 10 years, leading to a huge growth in cycling. That compares with the 79p per person spent elsewhere in the UK. Given cycling’s economic benefits and the savings it could bring the NHS, such an approach would save the Government huge sums in the long run.
That is absolutely right. Cycling makes a huge contribution to the economy in cities, towns and rural areas right across the UK.
What plans does the Minister have to improve training for cyclists, as well as for drivers—particularly those who share bus lanes with cyclists—to ensure that cycle safety is a core part of the driving test? One of the best ways of improving safety is getting more people cycling, so will the Minister meet Ministers in the Department for Education to discuss putting cycling on the curriculum, in the same way as swimming, so that every child learns to ride a bike safely and more children take part in cycling?
One big barrier to getting more people cycling is the fear many people have of it, so ensuring that more people learn to cycle properly would help address that perception. Making cycling safer in local residential streets would also help. That is another of the demands from The Times, which wants 20 mph as the default limit in residential areas where there is no cycle lane.
As my hon. Friend knows, Bristol was given cycling city status a couple of years ago, and I very much support his call for a 20 mph limit. I met the Colombian ambassador this morning, and he told me that, for the past 25 years, Bogota has closed its streets from eight o’clock in the morning until two in the afternoon every Sunday and bank holiday so that people can cycle, and up to 1 million people will come out cycling. Is that perhaps something we should explore so that people can get their first experience of cycling on a traffic-free road?
That is a brilliant idea. I have seen it done in Seattle, and it has hugely increased the number of cyclists.
Can we encourage each local authority area to appoint a cycling commissioner to push forward reforms? In that respect, I would go further than what The Times is askingfor. Cycling obviously involves the Department for Transport, but local roads are run by local councils, so the Department for Communities and Local Government needs to be committed to cycling. We also need commitment from the Department for Education if we are going to get more youngsters cycling. Given the health benefits of cycling and the need for dangerous drivers to be caught and prosecuted properly, the Department of Health, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice need to take cycling much more seriously, too. What can the Government do, therefore, to give the Minister the power and authority to get all these Departments working together effectively?
Yes, of course—actually, I won’t, because the hon. Gentleman has already intervened once, and loads of other people want to get in.
If the Government cannot give the Minister the power I described, what about appointing a Minister in each Department as a cycling champion or establishing a cross-Government committee of Ministers?
We need the Government to ensure that cycling provision and safety are properly considered at the outset in looking at all major transport issues and during the planning and implementation of urban developments. That would mean that we never again saw junctions such as the Bow roundabout and Vauxhall cross, which can subsequently be put right only at huge cost. That is the central point made by British Cycling’s road safety manifesto, but it is clear that things are not currently dealt with in that way. Earlier this month, for example, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mike Penning, who has responsibility for road safety, admitted that no specific consideration had been given to cyclists’ safety in the research into trials of extra-long lorry trailers.
I also want to speak about the derisory sentences drivers often receive after killing or injuring cyclists. For example, British Cycling employee Rob Jefferies was killed when hit from behind on an open, straight road in daylight by someone who had already been caught for speeding. Unbelievably, the driver got an 18-month ban, a retest, 200 hours’ community service and a small fine. That is in line with the guidelines, so there is no hope of an appeal.
The lorry driver who killed Eilidh Jake Cairns admitted in court that his eyesight was not good enough for him to have been driving, and he was fined just £200.
Eilidh Cairns was the daughter of a constituent of mine, and I want to place on record the campaign her family have been engaged in ever since, which has led to a motion signed by more than half the Members of the European Parliament. It was also very much behind the efforts I made through a ten-minute rule Bill to highlight some of these issues.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to mention that. He and his constituents should be commended for the campaign they have run.
When Cath Ward was killed, the driver was convicted of careless driving and received a short driving ban. He will be back behind the wheel very soon. Cath’s friend Ruth Eyles wrote to me:
“What shocks me is that the driver who killed Rob Jefferies will be able to drive again in 18 months.”
“If that young man had had a legal firearm and had accidentally shot and killed someone through carelessness, would he be given a new licence 18 months later?”
We need the sentencing guidelines to be revised, in the same way the way guidelines for assault were revised, to reflect the harm the victim suffers. Will the Minister press the Ministry of Justice to change the guidance, to ensure the punishment fits the crime and, more importantly, to deter drivers from engaging in the stupid and dangerous driving that puts cyclists and other road users at risk?
My central point is that, as the CTC report “Safety In Numbers” points out, the more people who cycle, the safer cycling will be. Since 2000, bike use in Britain has quadrupled. The number of those cycling in London has soared by 150%, and the number of deaths is down by 60%. Between 1985 and 2005, the number of those cycling rose by 45% in the Netherlands, and fatalities fell by 58%.
This summer, as the hon. Member for Cambridge said, gives us a huge opportunity to transform cycling in Britain. Britain’s brilliant cyclists look set for huge success here in the Olympics, and also in some of world’s other biggest races. As a result many more people—particularly youngsters—will get on their bikes. With the “Summer of cycling”, which I hope the Minister will today commit to fund, we aim to double the number of people cycling this year. Let us get all the political parties and cycling organisations, and the media, following the lead of The Times and working together to transform the number of people cycling, and their safety.
As hon. Members can imagine, there are many things on which I disagree with Prime Minister, but it was fantastic when, as the Leader of the Opposition, one of the ways he chose to try to show that he was a different sort of Conservative was getting on his bike. It was great as well that he backed the Times campaign yesterday, but the truth is that he has the power—more than any of us—to act and get the Government focused on improving safety for cyclists.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, with whom I enjoy working on the all-party group. I want to back him up on his points about the Prime Minister having the power, and about Departments working together. In Winchester we have works above junction 9 of the M3, which are needed and wanted, and have been campaigned for by Members of Parliament; but they threaten to put a stop to national cycle route 23. With a little more thought and planning we can avoid such situations. Such not-joined-up thinking is literally getting in the way of cycling.
That reinforces the point I made earlier about ensuring that cycling is at the heart of all major transport schemes, at their inception and in their execution and development.
Finally, the campaign and today’s debate, with the number of MPs present and the outside interest, show that the issue will not go away. The Times is committed to campaigning on the issues for as long as it takes. I want to say that people—whether they are Sir Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton, a club cyclist like me or a commuter; whether they ride once a year on holiday or are parents who want to get their kids on a bike—should e-mail or write to their MP, or go to their surgery, and persuade them to back this campaign. I want every MP who has attended the debate to join the all-party cycling group, raise the issues in the Chamber, work with us and back our campaigns to boost cycling and improve safety for cyclists. That would be the biggest tribute we could pay to Rob Jefferies, Eilidh Jake Cairns, Cath Ward and of course to Mary Bowers and all of those injured or killed while cycling.
This important debate has stimulated the interest of a number of my constituents, many of whom are members of the Congleton cycling club. Sadly, one of them, my constituent Karl Austin, was tragically killed while competing in a cycling time trial in June 2011. He was riding in the South Pennine Club 10 on the A50 at Etwall, when he was struck from behind by a heavy goods vehicle. Karl was very well liked in the community and loved by his family, and is missed dearly. Following his tragic death the CCC chairman initiated a JustGiving campaign for the Wheels for All charity, which provides adapted cycling equipment and cycling activity programmes for people with disability and differing needs. I pay tribute to Karl, his family and the work of the CCC.
I have met members of the cycling club in Congleton and they are fine examples of the close-knit community I represent. The many representations I have received from them confirm that a good number of people are reluctant to cycle because of concerns about road safety, whether on city, urban or rural roads, whether those concerns are based on actuality or on misplaced fear. They are valid concerns, and that is why I am here to support the Times campaign. I want to quote some of the well-made points that constituents have made in correspondence with me. Michael Bolton points out that we should review planning of the next generation of cycle routes and says
“they are often poorly designed, poorly maintained and in the vast majority of cases put the cyclist at a disadvantage because they have to give way to other traffic at every junction and when the lane suddenly and inexplicably ends.”
That is a valid point, and I am concerned about inconsiderate car owners parking on cycle lanes and forcing cyclists off, often on to busy roads and at junctions, which puts lives at risk.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and has saved me making it.
As to the training of cyclists and drivers, Michael Bolton is delighted that the Government have pledged to continue the support of Bikeability training in schools. I welcome their pledge of £11 million for that, and their commitment to improve the driving test and driver training.
On cycling safety, does the hon. Lady think we should do something to improve the safety of cycles and cyclists, by requiring all new bikes to be sold fitted with lights, all new cyclists to be given a high-visibility vest and offered a low-price helmet, and schools to do far more on cycling safety and training? Should not cyclists be trained to behave responsibly, in addition to all the road safety measures that she has outlined?
The hon. Gentleman makes excellent points and he is right that we need to consider a compendium of solutions to the problem.
On training, my constituent points out that it will help if we train young people,
“to redress the years and lost generations where cycling has been side-lined.”
“Not only does it benefit the children now with greater independence, less obesity and much greater road awareness but will also mean that the next generation of learner drivers should have a greater understanding of road etiquette and the place of cyclists.”
Incidentally, he feels that that should be extended to
“include funded cycle training for adults and greater cycle awareness within the instruction given to drivers in general and professional drivers in particular”.
Mr Bolton says that wider implementation of a 20 mph speed limit would not only make things safer and more pleasant for cyclists and pedestrians, particularly in residential areas, but reduce the differential between the time taken for journeys made by car or by bike, thus
“making journeys by bicycle that bit more enticing.”
He supports appointing cycling commissioners. I suggest that we might consider the appointment of voluntary local champions in that regard, in these times of local funding austerity.
Bob Norton, the chair of the Congleton cycling club, raises two innovative points. He suggests that in most of the EU, national legislation adopts the position that the less vulnerable road user causing harm is deemed to be responsible or culpable, unless evidence is produced to show the contrary. Secondly, he says that the UK should legislate for a minimum passing distance, along the lines of those in force in other European countries.
Other residents, Nick Harwood and Paul Fradley, point out that the poor state of road maintenance is a serious concern, as other hon. Members have mentioned. Often
“a cyclist may have to move out from a line close to the left hand edge of the thoroughfare into the path of fast moving cars, lorries and vans.”
They comment that
“secure bike storage at railway stations and in town centres could all work together to enable more people to leave the car at home”.
My constituent David Ball supports the campaign to raise driver awareness of the vulnerability of cyclists, and reminds us that, whereas some people say that cyclists do not pay road tax, neither do cycles emit CO2, or damage roads, as cars do.
“have ensured that the driver is to be sentenced in a magistrates court, not the Crown Court”.
He writes that
“it does seem to highlight the unwillingness of the…CPS to bring adequate prosecution against drivers who kill cyclists. Perhaps you can use something from my letter in the debate in Parliament, if you are called.”
Mr Austin writes that Karl, who was a very well-known racing cyclist and had competed for 35 years all over England, was very safety conscious on the roads, and on the day he died was wearing bright clothing. He adds:
“he had attached to the rear of his bike a very small but super-efficient “Exposure Flare” rear light. This emits a very bright pulsating red light, which on a wide, straight road such as the A50 should have been visible for hundreds of yards. A fellow competitor on that evening saw Karl’s bright light and had Karl not been killed later was going to ask him where he could buy one, as it was so powerful.”
Just a few days ago, a report was published in which the head of the Scotland Yard’s road death investigation unit, Detective Chief Inspector Oldham, stated that motorists who cause death on the roads should face stiffer penalties. Mr Austin says that he is now left with the fact that his son’s case will be dealt with in a magistrates court, rather than in a Crown court with a judge presiding. He will be dealt with in a court where petty criminals are dealt with. He says:
“Is killing a man through carelessness on a par with minor offences? Under similar circumstances”— that is, killing a man—
“where no vehicle was involved, would that qualify for a magistrates court?...To lose a child under any circumstances is utterly devastating. But to have that death…treated in such a…trivialising manner, just deepens the wounds further. My wife and I have suffered all this before, in 1986, when our only daughter was killed in a car crash; her killer charged with ‘driving without due care and attention’ and fined about £200.”
With great grace, however, Mr Austin says that he is not vengeful towards the HGV driver, who himself has to live with the consequences of the incident. He ends his letter to me by saying:
“Whatever sentence he would have faced would be as nothing compared to ours”,
even if the case had been dealt with in a Crown court. Is Mr Austin’s letter alone not sufficient reason for us all to consider the issue of road safety for the benefit of everyone: cyclists, pedestrians and drivers?
As a result of the number of Members who wish to speak in this debate, I am, with the authority of the Chairman of Ways and Means, imposing a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of seven minutes. The rules are exactly as they are in the House. Each of the first two interventions accepted stop the clock and gives the Member who gives way an extra minute, and I appeal for short interventions.
Unlike in the main Chamber, the mechanisms here do not yet enable the Member speaking to see a countdown clock in the displays around the room. To assist Members, I will cause a bell to be rung when a Member has one minute left.
I hope to take considerably less time than the limit, given the impressive number of Members who have turned up today. The last time so many Members turned up was for a debate against the BBC’s local radio cuts. It properly did a U-turn, so let us hope that this debate has as much effect on Government policy.
I do not want to repeat things that have already been said, and most of my remarks will, I hope, be directed in a friendly way to the Minister. As a number of hon.
Members have already said, and as Dr Huppert made clear, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. There is a general consensus about what works and what needs to be done, and he was absolutely right to say that the single most effective thing that we could do to make cycling safer is to get more bikes on the road—critical mass and safety in numbers.
Speaking as a cyclist of more than 20 years in London and a non-car owner for more than 15, the situation in London has been transformed. I feel much safer cycling in London now than I ever have, because there are more bikes on the road. I do not always feel that safe in other parts of the country, including in my own constituency, where there are fewer bikes on the road and where I am given less space by a vehicle. Getting more people on bikes is the best way of making cycling safer.
Having said that, my constituency, Exeter, was one of the fortunate cities that was a cycling demonstration town under the Labour Government. We had a total transformation in cycling over a short time—a 47% increase in cycling between 2005 and 2011. I went back to my primary school when I worked for the BBC to do a documentary about cycling and I discovered that the bike sheds had been dismantled. When I was a child, we all went to school by bike. Now, nobody did; that was about 15 years ago.
One of the most heartening things that has happened in Exeter is that although nationally the rate of cycling to school is around 3% for secondary schools and 1% for primary schools, in Exeter, now, after such a short time, it is 20% for secondary schools and 10% for primary schools. We know what works, and we do not need to reinvent the wheel.
I stress the need for co-ordination. I was extremely pleased to hear the hon. Member for Cambridge call gently for the restoration of Cycling England. One of the things that will dog the Minister, which also dogged me as a Minister and fellow Labour Ministers throughout our years in government who were committed to the agenda and to trying to get something done, is that there are many disparate voices that speak for cycling in this country, and it is vital, if we want to get anything done, that they are brought together in one effective body. That is what Cycling England did, and it was a tragedy that the Government decided to abolish it. I hope that the Minister listens carefully to the sage advice of his hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and reinstates Cycling England. He will find having that single body incredibly helpful.
Another important thing, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend Ian Austin, is co-ordination in Government. He is absolutely right. Unless we can get all the different Departments that are interested in cycling working together on the matter, and unless we get real leadership at the top from the Prime Minister and, crucially, from the Secretary of State for Transport, the Minister will not get the progress that we need.
Labour made some incredible progress in the 13 years that we were in government. We had big increases in cycling, the cycling demonstration towns, big increases in investment in cycling and improvements to cycling safety. If I am to be perfectly frank, we went up a lot of gears only when Andrew Adonis was Transport Secretary. The reason for that was because he was totally committed to cycling. He banged heads and got me, as the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and the then Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham, together. It was about getting those Ministers together, at Secretary of State level, to agree to policies, to push them through and to ensure that we confronted—I am afraid that if the Minister has not already discovered this, he will do so—a cultural problem in parts of the Department and in local government, which are still, in many cases, dominated by the road lobby. The Minister will find it essential to have the full support of his Secretary of State in driving the agenda forward. It would reassure me and everyone else present today if he could assure us when he replies that he has that full support and political clout at the top of his Department.
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman now. I have the full support of the Secretary of State, who is signed on to the agenda. I do not believe that there is a cultural problem in the Department.
That is encouraging.
It is also important that the Ministers in his Department speak with one voice. I have noticed a slight discordance in respect of some of the things that the Minister has said and of some of things that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Mike Penning—I am not sure whether he is still the Road Safety Minister—has said, including two completely different responses to letters about liability.
I was extremely pleased to hear what the hon. Member for Cambridge said about liability. It is important. If we look at all the other northern European countries that have a much better record on cycling and cycling safety than we do, we will see that they all have a liability rule. It will make a real difference in this country, making motorists much more careful and wary around cyclists. The Minister’s letter on the issue was quite positive, and it gave me hope that the Government might do something about it. However, I am afraid that the letter from his hon. Friend in the same Department, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead, pretty much ruled it out. It is important that the Government speak with one voice on the matter, that one Minister takes leadership on cycling issues and that the matter is led, as I said, right from the top.
The Times’ s manifesto is fantastic. I would say that it is a modest manifesto. I hope that my own Front Bench will endorse it; I do not see any reason why the manifesto should not be endorsed in all its detail.
Absolutely, although contrary to most people’s prejudices, I have one of the most urban seats in the country. It is surrounded by beautiful countryside, where many of my constituents go cycling. They feel safer in the city of Exeter than they do on country lanes, largely because of the absolutely intolerable speeds that people drive at on many country lanes. I feel much safer cycling in my constituency, in urban areas and in London than I do in the country, specifically because of the speeding problems; I know that horse riders face a similar danger and nervousness.
If the Government goes down the route of raising the speed limit on our motorways to 80 mph, I hope that as a quid pro quo, they will introduce 20 mph speed limits in our urban areas. That would be a huge step forward to improve cycling safety. We all know the statistics about how likely it is that someone will survive or die if they are hit at 30 mph or 20 mph. It would make a big difference.
In Brighton and Hove, we have very successful routes on the seafront with shared pedestrian access. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we should be encouraging Brighton and Hove council to mark that space in bright colours? The safety of cyclists is about not only roads, but where we have shared access on pavements.
We have already addressed some of the challenges faced when cyclists and pedestrians are put together. My preference is to separate them if at all possible. Sometimes it is not possible. Where it is not possible, there should be clear demarcation, because we do not want the matter to become an argument between cyclists and pedestrians. They are both vulnerable road users and are much more vulnerable than people who are surrounded by metal. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I wish the Minister well. I hope that he takes on board the points I have raised—this is about political leadership and working together—as he will then succeed.
It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend Dr Huppert on securing the debate. I also pay tribute to Mary Bowers who has been in hospital and is in a coma. I hope that she, and anybody who has suffered from a similar accident, gets better soon.
It is coincidental that she shares a name with a man called Henry Robertson Bowers, who, many hon. Members may know, was with Captain Scott in the Antarctic and made a significant contribution to scientific environmental work. I hope that Mary Bowers’ tragic accident ends up having a similar impact on cycling issues.
A large number of people from my constituency have written to me––around 30. I work very much on the basis that, for every one person who writes to me, 20 other people think the same way. If my mathematics is right, 30 multiplied by 20 comes out at 600, which is nearly half my parliamentary majority. I am therefore very aware of what the impact of that could be.
I am delighted and surprised at the number of people who take to cycling in Plymouth, despite the fact it is a very hilly city, and at the number of cycle clubs in south Devon. In many ways, we are very different from continental Europe. I know very well that whenever I am driving in France, I see cycle clubs going out. I was at a cricket match, as hon. Members might imagine I would be, in the south of France last summer. Everyone had to rush back from the cricket game in order to watch some major cycling activity. I suspect that it was almost as big as the FA cup final.
I am very convinced about what will happen during the course of this year. We have the Olympics, which I am sure will encourage many more people to get involved in cycling. I am sure that both Victoria Pendleton and Chris Hoy will not only win gold medals, as I very much hope they do, but be elected—or be in the region of being elected—as BBC sports personality of the year.
If we are to improve the number of people who are cycling, we need to ensure that it is safe. I will be frank and honest with hon. Members: I have not been on a bicycle for a very long time. I want to be very supportive indeed of what The Times is up to, because there are a lot of lessons to be learned not only from abroad, but from London and the good work that Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor, is doing. One thing we need to do is ensure that our pavements and roads do not become a battleground between motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, shop mobility scooter users and anyone else who has to use them.
My hon. Friend is right, but is it not also true that we need more dedicated cycle tracks? That is certainly the case in my constituency. However, they are very expensive and money is tight. One way we could get more cycle tracks is for local businesses to be involved, as has happened in London. If we could get local businesses and large employers to sponsor dedicated cycle tracks in return for a discount in their local rates, that might be a way forward.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend, but we also need to make it much easier for people to be noticed when they use cycle tracks and for there to be delineation of cycle lanes. For example, the Mayor of London has ensured that there are blue cycle lanes, especially along the Embankment. That makes it much easier to identify where cyclists are. I therefore propose to write to my city council—as I am sure that Alison Seabeck will also do—to urge it to create a city where cycling is safe and that is fit for cycling.
I thoroughly agree with the eight points that The Times has raised in its campaign. However, we should go further. One of the key issues is ensuring that there is greater visibility. As I say, cycle lanes must be easily identified and well delineated. We must also ensure that there is better lighting, which is a very good example of why we should be campaigning for the Daylight Saving Bill introduced by my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris. We could then have strong lighting and ensure that drivers can see cyclists. Stronger lamps and louder hooters, rather than just those insipid little bells, on cycles are also important. We must ensure that we can all be aware that cyclists are about.
Of course, I also agree with people wearing DayGlo jackets. We should reduce the amount of signage on our streets. Often signage is littered everywhere and ruins our streetscapes. We should also stop lorries coming into town centres during rush hour, when people are commuting to work. We also need to create more cycle racks. In a hilly constituency in a city such as mine, it might also be helpful to ensure that there are more charging points for people with electrical bicycles.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s suggestion that there should be greater restrictions—time restrictions, at least—on the use of HGVs, particularly in the cities. Does he agree that there should be greater use of the River Thames to get rid of HGVs from the roads altogether? We should put much greater emphasis on the use of the Thames for the movement of freight. I have been told that one barge will potentially remove 14 trucks from the road.
I do not disagree with my hon. Friend. However, I should point out that the River Thames does not flow as far as Plymouth at the moment. However, no doubt, there could be an argument for ensuring that what he has mentioned happens.
My final point is that cyclists are not the only people using roads; we also have motorists, pedestrians and shop mobility people. I have certainly been approached by people in my constituency who are very concerned to make sure that there is better training. I would be very grateful if cyclists would stop using pavements as a grand prix track, because I find that intimidating.
One never knows: if all of this begins to happen and this agenda is taken forward, I might end up getting back on a bicycle. That will ensure that a wonderful programme called “Fat Man on a Bicycle” produced by Tom Vernon, a well-known broadcaster, becomes a reality.
My comments will be brief because I do not want to repeat too much of what other hon. Members have said. The first thing we have to remember is that cycling is universal. Whether someone is an 80-year-old former miner or a young person, cycling gives freedom, independence and enjoyment. However, we need a much safer environment if we are to encourage more people, particularly the young, to cycle. We need to take great leaps forward in safety.
I am extremely lucky because in my constituency we have some magnificent purpose-built cycle tracks. We have a millennium coastal path all along the coast and a route using a former railway track, which climbs very gradually at a perfect gradient up to Tumble and beyond. However, we need to ensure that it is safe for cyclists to go wherever they need to go, not just on the purpose-built routes but wherever they want—for example, to work or to the shops in their locality, and when they travel elsewhere for work or holidays. Cyclists need to be safe both on urban and rural roads because, as my right hon. Friend Mr Bradshaw said, it is often when people go out into the rural or semi-rural areas that they pick up speed, they are not so aware and it becomes much more dangerous.
We need much greater awareness among drivers—all drivers of all vehicles. We can tackle that through the learner-driver approach, the test and so on. However, we need a very high-profile campaign to bring home to all vehicle drivers how dangerous it is for them to be driving at speed on any rural roads and, indeed, obviously on urban roads. Those who have had the pleasure of cycling in France will know that French drivers traditionally pull out considerably wider when they overtake, beep their horns and leave cyclists a proper, decent space. We need to have that mentality here, so that when someone wants to overtake a cyclist, they give them the same berth as a car or a tractor, rather than trying to squash in and pass by while a vehicle is coming in the other direction. Cyclists are often faced with the extremely dangerous and difficult situation of being squashed into the hedge.
I have never had quite so many vitriolic e-mails as when I spoke up in a debate in the previous Parliament and suggested that all our speed signs change to kilometres per hour, so that when a driver saw a 30, that would be 30 kph, and when a driver saw a 40 it would be 40 kph. Effectively, that would give all urban roads a 20 mph speed limit. I am pleased to say that that is being rolled out in many areas near schools, and I think that many of us have seen that in our own areas. We need to come back to that idea, particularly as, coming from outside London, I have never known why everyone in London has to race between one set of traffic lights and the next. That determination to get to the next red light as fast as possible always strikes me as bizarre.
One suggestion about why people might do that is the absence of hills. If more people came to some parts of the United Kingdom, including our nation of Wales, they might see what a wonderful place it is in which to cycle. In October, Etape Cymru came into my constituency and there were 1,600 cyclists, so there are great opportunities. Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why many of us are so pro-cycling is because we see the potential for tourism?
Indeed. There are many wonderful Sustrans routes across Wales, but they sometimes take the cyclist down very narrow lanes, which can be dangerous. I found myself spending most of the day jumping into the hedge because there was no room for me and the combine harvester coming down the lane.
Does my hon. Friend agree that boroughs such as Hackney, which provide free cycle training up to level 2, are exemplars? The problems that she describes can also be tackled by good training to command the road and have the same rights as car drivers.
Sustrans and other national cycling groups are important and we all welcome them. However, it is also important to recognise what can be done, particularly in urban areas, with small, but crucial, minor engineering works. We all know of examples where cycle routes suddenly come to a dead end, and sometimes it is more difficult and dangerous to get off the cycle route and back on to normal traffic. That could be addressed by councils quite simply and easily. That is as important in its own way as having national routes.
Absolutely. We need to have a seamless transition and ensure that people are not confronted with a situation where they have to move across a large stream of traffic.
Returning to the issue of speed, we need to look at the design of speed humps. Some humps, as cyclists know, are a nightmare. Humps made of metal right across the road can be slippery for those of us who have not moved on to the mountain-style bike and are still using old touring-type tyres. That needs to be looked at. With the humps made of rubber, cyclists have to decide whether to squash right into the curb, go over the middle, or try to pull out and go in between the two bits of rubber. That is a nightmare for some people in towns, so we need to consider the types of humps used. I am in favour of humps. I am not one who does not think they should be there, but they should have a design that allows cyclists to cope with them.
Cyclists need somewhere safe to put their bicycle when they have reached their destination so that it can be chained up and cyclists are not left wondering, “Will it be moved off these railings? Will I be allowed to leave it here? Will it be taken away?” There should be a feeling that cyclists are welcome to come by bike. It is amazing how many of our leisure centres and supermarkets still do not have proper facilities to chain up bicycles. I believe that one of our Members lost his bike somewhere outside a supermarket in west London not so very long ago.
We should remember that cycling makes us feel better. We might think that we do not want to go out in the cold and the wet, but we will get to work or other destinations feeling much warmer because of the blood circulating and, as has been pointed out, we will live longer for it. However, we have to take the issue of safety, above all, really seriously. If we want to encourage young people and say to our children, “Get out, get a bit more independent, enjoy going out to places on your own”, then we need to ensure that we proceed in the same way as Exeter when it was chosen as a cycling city. We need the same for many more of our cities and towns. I hope the Minister will consider what can be done about that.
I will not repeat all the excellent points that other hon. Members have made, but let us remember that this is an issue that should affect every area in which we cycle, not just the purpose-built areas. We should make an effort, in a joined-up way across Government, to get that cycle policy right for everybody.
Some 30 years ago, I fell in love on a tandem. I have to share the tragedy with hon. Members that last week I turned 50. On my last day of being 49, my husband turned up on the front half of my tandem like a knight in shining lycra and whisked me off for 28 miles on Dartmoor and a 3,000-foot climb. Frankly, I could not care less about being 50—it was a wonderful evening.
It would be a shame if we did not add the joy of cycling to this debate. Cycling makes us feel glad to be alive, improves our mood and quality of life. That is important, because we need to get more people cycling. There is safety in numbers, but we do not want to frighten people away from cycling—we need to send that crucial message. I cycle to work most days in Westminster. When I first started cycling in London 30 years ago, I felt a bit of an oddity, but now whole pelotons sweep past me. Maybe that is because I am getting slower, but it certainly feels a lot safer when there are more cyclists around.
I welcome the campaign from The Times, but I would like it to be broadened to include rural cycling. I represent a rural constituency. Some 36 people were killed on rural A roads, and 26 on urban roads. It is between five and 10 times more dangerous to cycle per mile on a rural A road than it is in the city. I would particularly like to remember the 11 people from my constituency who were killed or seriously injured cycling between 2005 and 2010. In pressing for change, may I also urge the Minister to consider a change to the language and stop calling them accidents? I suggest that driving and overtaking at 60 mph on a rural lane and hitting a cyclist is not an accident—that is a crash. It minimises, and makes it worse for the victims’ families if we call them accidents. Let us abandon the language of denial and neglect.
I am grateful to my many constituents who have written to me today to give me their ideas, one of which was on speed limits. I know that other hon. Members have referred to this, but the Netherlands is rolling out changing to 60 kph on rural networks. That is the equivalent of 40 mph, as Nia Griffith said. Will the Minister consider that change? It is disappointing to hear that perhaps that is not something the Department will press forward with. On behalf of all hon. Members, I press him to reconsider. I would also like to reconsider, as many hon. Members have, the issue of a safe passing distance of at least one metre. That should made very clear, be part of the driving test and in The Highway Code.
Cycle training is improving. This weekend, I will visit a Steiner school with a wonderful organisation called Always Be Cycling. Not only does it give excellent training to both children and adults, but it teaches people how to repair their bikes. Most people own a bike, but not everybody uses it. Part of the reason for that may be that they lack the confidence to repair it. I urge the Minister to continue to give more support to such excellent cycling training schemes. I would like to see safer manhole covers—non-slip manhole covers would be an excellent development—and more training for lorry drivers. Finally, I want the Minister to focus on how we separate vehicles from cyclists in rural areas.
I pay tribute to the parents at the Steiner school in my constituency who got together and formed the sustainable transport action group, and actively considered how many children were cycling to school—a miserable 2.8%. By working closely in co-operation with local landowners, the parents have increased that figure to 9.1% in just two years by introducing a safe off-road route. This demonstrates that we really do see effective change.
In contrast, in another part of my constituency, at Littlehempston, with regard to which the Minister has already been helpful, it is a scandal that at the home of the transition movement—Transition Town Totnes—we have possibly the only bridge in the country that keeps communities apart. The final link in National Cycling Network 2, the route running all the way from Kent to Cornwall, could be joined up if there were a safe route through Totnes to Littlehempston. At the moment, if I were a parent in Littlehempston I would not want my children to cycle to school. The road between Totnes and Paignton is hideously dangerous. I have cycled it myself many times.
If only the bridge were open and there was co-operation with landowners and, crucially, the co-operation of a sustainable steam railway—the South Devon Railway—which had the bridge built. The real scandal is that £87,000 of public money went towards the £173,000 cost of building that bridge.
We have all heard the bogus arguments about cycling, including the dangers of vandalism and all that stuff—the resistance that is sometimes seen from communities and landowners who do not understand the real benefits that cycling can bring their communities.
I should like to highlight another example, which is the failure so far to complete the cycle route from Exeter to Dawlish, a wonderful route along the Exe estuary, because of the failure of the landowner—the Earl of Devon—to agree to a new bridge over the railway. That bridge would be publicly funded, but he just does not like the look of it.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that.
Let us sweep away some of these bogus arguments and have real involvement and drive. I should like Devon county council, for example, not to be put off from issuing compulsory purchase orders where there are short gaps, so that the local community can really benefit. In this Olympic year, I should like to think that a child living in Littlehempston might be able to start their future Olympic cycling career by cycling from Littlehempston to Totnes.
I welcome this debate and the increased attention to the need for action to make cycling a real choice and to make it more convenient and therefore more attractive, and, as Dr Wollaston said, more enjoyable.
As other hon. Members have said, The Times campaign has done a great job in massively raising the profile of cycling. I also place on the record my appreciation of the work done by Cyclox, the cycling organisation in my constituency, and by Sustrans, British Cycling and CTC.
As other hon. Members have said, action on the threats to cycling is crucial for the health and environmental benefits that it brings and to cut the carnage of serious accidents and deaths. In Oxford last October, Joanna Braithwaite, who worked as personal assistant to the rector of St Aldate’s church in my constituency, was killed cycling to the church. She was knocked down by a cement mixer lorry. There have been other deaths, too, in Oxford in recent years, usually involving lorries turning—each one an horrific, avoidable tragedy.
I strongly support the call for sensors, truck turning alarms, mirrors, safety bars and HGV training to cut the risk to people cycling. The shadow Secretary of State’s proposal to pay for this by hypothecating income from the proposed HGV road-charging scheme is good and I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will consider that positively.
More generally, funding measures to improve conditions for cycling cost little in comparison with the costs of making and maintaining roads. Switching a small proportion of the Highway Agency budget to provide cycle ways, as The Times campaign rightly proposes—
Order. I am told that there may be two Divisions in the House. I suggest we suspend the sitting for 20 minutes.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House